The Model Prayer: Forgiveness (Matthew 6:12 sermon)

(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist, 5-20-15)

I know that many of you, like me, grew up hearing soloists and others sing what became the “traditional” version of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  There is one part of the song that seems almost haunting to me: where it comes to the part of the prayer where it says; “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” — and then the soloist stops for a moment and the music echoes those words “as we forgive our debtors” — as if to say, stop and think about the somber nature of this request: we are asking God to forgive us now, in the same way that we forgive others.  It IS important, and both of these phrases should play an important role in our daily prayer time.

We have seen over the last weeks that Jesus gave us the Model Prayer not as a “script” to be recited, but as a Model to follow. He outlined for us in the prayer at least 6 categories of things that God wants us to talk with Him about when we pray — especially in the longer prayers that we pray to begin our day.  Tonight we come to the 5th Request, which deals with forgiveness:

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

There are two parts to this 5th request, both of which deal with forgiveness: the first, includes the forgiveness we RECEIVE from God, and the second, deals with the forgiveness which we are to GIVE to others:  

I. First this request teaches us to pray about the forgiveness we RECEIVE.
“And forgive us our debts …”

A.  The MEANING of forgiveness.

The analogy Jesus uses here is of sin as a “debt.”  In another version of the Model Prayer in Luke 11:4, Jesus uses the word “sins” in the place of “debts”, so we know that He is, in fact, speaking of the forgiveness of SINS here, not material or monetary debts.
So the picture here is that our sins are like debts, which mount up before God. Jesus teaches us here that we are to ask Him to “FORGIVE us our debts …”.  This word “forgive” comes from a word (aphiemi) which means “to send away.”  Chuck Quarles, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, writes that when the word is used in a financial context, it means to release the debtor from the legal obligation to pay the debt.  But when it is used in a moral or spiritual sense, it means “to pardon” or “release from the consequences deserved by his actions.”
Thus it means that we are asking God to send away, or wipe away the debt of our sins.

This is THE basic request of the gospel: asking God for forgiveness of sins.  This is how we get saved in the very beginning. We are “poor in spirit”, realizing that we are morally and spiritually bankrupt before God, and we ask Him to wipe out our spiritual debt because of what Jesus paid at the cross.  Like the Publican in Luke 18:13, we pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And God DOES wipe away our sins, and forgives them.  That is just the basic message of the gospel.  (IF that has not happened to you, that is the first thing you need to do — and you can do it right now! Admit your “spiritual bankruptcy” before God right now, and ask Him to wipe out the debt of your sins in Jesus’ name!)

I know that many of us, perhaps all of us here tonight, would say we have already done this.  But we are never to lose this attitude before God.  Jerry Bridges, who has written several very good books on grace, has famously said that even as Christians, we need to “preach the gospel to yourself every day” — NOT because we need to be saved every day, but to remind ourselves of how we were saved, and as a constant guard against being “holier than thou.”
It’s easy for us as Christians to think that we are saved by God’s grace — but then become real legalistic after that, as if we now stand before God by how much we go to church, or read the Bible, or live up to a certain moral code. And it is easy for us to start “looking down” on other people who aren’t “living up” to those things — so we become “holier than thou” and judgmental.

The cure for that is what Bridges calls “preaching the gospel to yourself every day.”  Confess the sins of the day to the Lord, and remember that God forgives those only because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.  It helps keep you humble before God, AND it helps to keep you from being judgmental of others, because it is a reminder that you were and are only saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

B.  The IMPORTANCE of (daily) forgiveness.

So it’s important for us to confess our sins to God daily.  This is NOT because we need to be SAVED daily. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this.  Some people fear that if they don’t confess their sins every day, that they will be lost. This is not a biblical concept.   Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  When you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved of all your sins: past, present, and future, and there is “NOW, no condemnation” for you. Theoretically you could never confess another specific sin for the rest of your lifetime, but you would still be saved and go to heaven.  You do not have to confess your sins daily to be saved, and to keep from going to hell.  We do NOT all need to pray “The Sinners Prayer” every service as some churches have people do.  We need to trust in Christ’s finished work for our salvation, that there is NOW, no condemnation for us through faith in Him.

Then WHY, someone may ask, do we need to confess our sins every day?  In fact, some go so far as to say that we do NOT need to. I saw where one so-called Bible teacher said that you do NOT need to confess your sins to God every day, because all our sins are already forgiven for all time.  This too is erroneous teaching.  We are saved from all sin, once and for all in Jesus, but Jesus does teach us here in this Daily Model Prayer to ask the Father for forgiveness of sin every day.  And I John 1:9 speaks in the present tense when it says “If we confess our sins” — meaning, “if we keep on confessing our sins” — because it is something that we are to continue to do.

But WHY keep confessing our sins to God daily if we are already saved from them?  Because although we are not “lost” because we commit daily sins, unconfessed daily sin does put a “cloud” between you and your relationship with God. For example, Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” If you have sin in your life that you have not gotten right with God through repentance and confession, it doesn’t make you “lost” but it does put a “cloud” between you and God, that hinders your fellowship with Him.  And you will not have the sweet fellowship Him that you want to have until you confess that sin.

I have never personally made this mistake, but some of you unfortunate husbands out there have probably said or done something stupid to anger your wife 🙂   When that happens, your wife might get angry, or maybe she gives you the “silent treatment” or whatever.  She may say things are “fine” — but you know better.  You can feel it; it is like there is a little “cloud” between you and her in your relationship.  Now, that little “cloud” doesn’t mean that you are not married; you still are. (In fact, you are probably VERY well aware that you are married!)  But there is definitely “something there” that won’t go away until you get that thing right between you — apologize, or talk it out, or make it right, or whatever you need to do.

That is similar to what happens in our relationship with God when a Christian sins. It does not make us unsaved.  But our sin does put a “cloud” between us and the Lord.  We need to confess our sin to Him so that the “cloud” is taken away, and there are no barriers between us and God, which hinder our fellowship with Him.

Someone may say, “I didn’t realize that confessing sin was that important.”  Listen: the fact that Jesus allocates one whole section of our prayer time just for the confession of sin, shows just how seriously the Lord takes our sin.

One of the biggest problems that people in general have — and unfortunately we as God’s people are not immune to it — is the trivialization of sin.  We just don’t see sin as that big a deal — and it IS.  Sin — of every kind — is rebellion against God and His Lordship of our lives.  Someone might say: “What’s the big deal about Adam & Eve taking the fruit in the Garden; that just doesn’t seem to be such a horrible thing.” It’s not just that they took a piece of fruit; it is that they purposefully disobeyed God.  They knew that God was the Sovereign, Holy, King of the universe; they knew what He had commanded them to do — and they purposefully chose to disregard Him, and do what they wanted to anyway. It didn’t matter what it was; it didn’t have to be fruit; it could have been anything.  Sin of every kind is high treason against Heaven — and God takes it seriously. So seriously, in fact, that He had to send His Only Begotten Son to die in agony when He asked Him if there were any other way out, because there was no other means to deal with it.  That’s how seriously God takes sin.

And so the Lord teaches us here to understand how serious our sin is, by spending time each day facing up to it, and confessing it to Him, and removing the “cloud” that has come between us and Him each day because of our sin.

C.  The CERTAINTY of forgiveness

If we will confess our sins, we can have every certainty that they will be forgiven. I John 1:9 is a great promise, and should be a centerpiece of our confession times in prayer: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

— it says IF we confess our sins (which is what Jesus is telling us to do in this portion of the Model Prayer

— then God is “faithful & righteous to forgive us our sins”.  “Faithful” means He will do it every time.  This should be encouraging to us: you cannot confess your sins to God and have Him not forgive them.  He is “faithful” to forgive them. He will do it every time.

One of the great verses to encourage us on that is in Matthew 18 where Peter asks Jesus how many times his brother should against him and he forgive him, and he asked: “Up to 7 times?” And Jesus said, “I do not say to you 7 times, but 70 TIMES 7”!  In other words, He was saying, you should forgive him an infinite number of times.  Well here is the encouragement: if Jesus commanded US to forgive an infinite number of times, then will He Himself not do the same for US?  The answer is, of course, that He will.

He is FAITHFUL: that means He will forgive us EVERY TIME we bring our sin to Him for forgiveness. That should be the greatest encouragement for us to come to His throne of grace every day.  Don’t put it off; don’t allow an unforgiven sin to put a “cloud” between your relationship with God. Confess it — and He WILL forgive it!

We need to do this at LEAST daily, during this Model Prayer time. Now, as I mentioned last Sunday, in the message on Spontaneous Prayer, we can and should confess our sins as soon as we commit them.  (Talk about a lesson in continual prayer: if we took our sin seriously, we’d be praying all the time, and have no problem with continual prayer!)

AND talk about lengthening our prayers:  it would lengthen our prayers greatly if we took our sin seriously and really spent the time we should confessing our sins to God. Someone says they can only pray for 5 minutes?  Think again! Ask God’s Holy Spirit to convict you about things you’ve said, done, looked at, thought about that you shouldn’t have, the attitudes you’ve had that were wrong; all the things you did NOT do that you should have — NOW how long do you think you could spend praying??!!  I warrant that we could offer up some pretty lengthy prayers to the Almighty if all we did was take our confession time as seriously as we should!

So an important element of the Model Prayer is this time of asking for the forgiveness of our daily sins — NOT just for the sake of the time involved, but for the relationship God wants to have with us.  This 5th petition teaches first of all, about the forgiveness we are to RECEIVE.

II.  Next it also teaches us to pray about the forgiveness which we are to GIVE.

“… as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A. Forgiven Forgivers!

Again, it is significant that Jesus uses this analogy of “debts” to represent sins.  That is the very same picture He uses in Matthew 18 in The Parable of the Two Debtors, which talks about being forgiven, and forgiving others.  Many of you are familiar with this story, in which Jesus said that there was a certain slave who owed his king 10,000 talents of gold (millions of dollars in our money). The slave couldn’t pay him, so he asked him to have mercy, which the king did.  But then the story says that this slave went out and found his fellow slave who owed him 100 days wages, and he seized him and began choking him, saying, “pay back what you owe.” His fellow slave asked him to have mercy on him — but he wouldn’t, and had him thrown into prison.  When the king heard this, he was infuriated, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?”  And he threw that wicked slave to the torturers!

This story teaches the importance of forgiving others, because God has forgiven us.  If we realize that God has forgiven us ALL our debts,  then we cannot reasonably refuse to show that same grace towards others.  If we DO refuse to forgive — then it demonstrates that we never really comprehended the grace of God at all.  If we really understand how God has freely forgiven us, then we know that we MUST freely forgive others as well. And that is what we are to do in this part of the Model Prayer.  We should ask the Lord to search our hearts, show us those people who have offended us, and ask for His help in forgiving them.
B. In What MANNER are we to forgive them?
“AS we also have forgiven our debtors.”

The little word “as” here is also a little word in the Greek New Testament, which is comparative; it means “like” the thing it is compared with. Here is it, “forgive us … in the same way, or LIKE we forgive our debtors.”

It is significant that Jesus uses this same Greek word again in that Parable of the Two Debtors in Matthew 18:33, where He says, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, EVEN AS I had mercy on you?”  He was saying that the forgiven slave should show the same mercy to his fellow slave, that his Master had shown to him.

That is what Jesus is teaching us here in Matthew 6.  In prayer, we are to be ready to forgive anyone who has offended us, JUST AS God has forgiven us. So let’s think for a minute about how God has forgiven us:

— He has forgiven us GRACIOUSLY: That is, we did not deserve it.  God did not forgive us because we were “good.” Romans 5:8 says it was “while we were yet sinners” that “Christ died for us.” He forgives us because He is gracious, which means that He treats us better than we deserve.

— He has forgiven us FREELY: He did not make us “earn” our forgiveness by doing some great deed. Forgiveness is not cheap; it cost the unimaginable price of the death of the Son of God on the cross. But it is free to us; we don’t have to “pay” anything for it. He forgives us freely.

— He has forgiven us DEEPLY:  No matter what our sin, He forgives us. King David was an adulterer and a murderer and a liar, and God forgave him. The Apostle Paul was a blasphemer; Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus; Paul said in I Corinthians 6, speaking of adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, and drunkards, that “such were some of you, but you were washed.” All of these sins can be forgiven.  I John 1:9 says “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from ALL sin.” We can take comfort in that. He forgives us deeply, that is, no matter what the sin!

— Not only that, He has also forgiven us REPEATEDLY:  Just like we talked about, we can always claim I John 1:9, and know that He will forgive us every single time.

So Jesus says we are to pray to forgive others “JUST AS” we have been forgiven.  That means that we are to forgive others:

— Graciously (that is, when THEY do not deserve it; just like we didn’t!)

— Freely (that is, you don’t make them “earn” it, or “pay for it” in some way; just like we didn’t!)

— Deeply (no matter how great the hurt, you still forgive; just like God forgave our worst sins!)

— Faithfully (that is, you do it every time. 70 x 7 — “JUST AS” God forgives the sins you commit over and over — you forgive them that same way too!)

We should note that immediately following the Model Prayer, Jesus expanded on this section with a little more commentary in :14-15. Right after the “amen” of the Prayer, He said: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
We need to understand that He is talking about the forgiveness of our daily sins. He’s saying, if you, in your heart, don’t forgive others for their sins against you, then God will not forgive your daily sins that you are confessing to Him at this point in your prayer.

— He’s NOT saying you will be lost if you don’t forgive someone. He IS saying that there will continue to be a cloud between you & Him until you learn to forgive.  (Some people who are wondering why they don’t “feel” as close to God as they used to — need look no further than this. They have unforgiveness towards someone which is making a barrier between them and God.)

— And we should also remember that Parable of the Two Debtors from Matthew 18, which warns us that if we are unwilling to forgive others, it may well indicate that we have never really experienced the grace of God ourselves.

It should say something about the importance of this that this was the only segment of the Model Prayer that Jesus specifically expanded on after the prayer.  It is obviously very important, and we need to take this seriously.  I said a couple of weeks ago that many people are in effect praying a curse upon themselves if they ask God to forgive them the way that they forgive others, because they AREN’T! If God forgives them the way they are praying, then they are in big  trouble!

CONCLUSION:

This 5th request is the point in prayer where the Lord wants us to come face to face with our sin, confess it, and get right with Him — and with anyone else we need to.

As is often the case for me, C.S. Lewis seems to put it as well as anyone: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable (in others), because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

BOTH of these are dealt with in this 5th Petition of the Model Prayer: in it we ask God to forgive the inexcusable in us — and we also ask Him to help us forgive the inexcusable in others.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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